It’s been a real “well, shit” few days for Democrats, for which one could either blame the New York Times or the underlying reality on which the New York Times reports.
On Monday, the Times’ Upshot section released a new poll in which Republicans led Democrats by just over three points when respondents were asked which party’s candidate they supported in their district—a gain of about four points for the GOP in the last month on the measure. It was the latest such “generic ballot” question on which Republicans have made gains over that time, and the party has closed its deficit in FiveThirtyEight’s aggregate of the measure to less than a point. Because of their gerrymandering advantages, Republicans would likely take control of the House even if Democrats have a one-point lead in national vote totals.
The states in which Democrats are in unusual jeopardy include New York (in some upstate House races whose districts mix blue-collar populations with liberal city emigrés) and Oregon (where the Nike guy is spending a billion-trillion dollars to promote the Republican candidate for governor), according to, again, reports in the New York Times. And while the party is still favored to hold on to the Senate, Mehmet Oz has closed to within a handful of points of John Fetterman in Pennsylvania while Ron Johnson and Adam Laxalt have taken slight but consistent leads over Mandela Barnes and Catherine Cortez Masto in, respectively, Wisconsin and Nevada. So that’s getting tighter as well.
Another problem for Democrats is that the forces behind these swings, according to experts such as myself, are factors that the party has no control over. In Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, Republicans are running ads accusing Barnes and Fetterman of being soft on crime, accusations which may be more effective among prejudicially inclined voters because Barnes is Black and Fetterman kind of looks and dresses like a biker. Specifically, Mehmet Oz’s campaign has been hammering Fetterman for his record leading the state’s Board of Pardons, which he pushed to recommend clemency more frequently. In Wisconsin, Johnson has accused Barnes of wanting to “defund the police” and put criminals on the street because of his past criticisms of the cash bail system and comments about reallocating funding from police departments to social services.
The Times poll also found that the share of voters citing the economy as their top concern is rising. This may be in part due to the fact that mortgage rates have gone up and the stock market has been beaten down by the Federal Reserve’s rate hikes, which investors are increasingly convinced will lead to a recession. (Bloomberg currently forecasts that there is a 100 percent chance of a downturn in the next year. 100 percent!) The fact that overall inflation has remained persistent likely doesn’t help either. But the most important issue is probably just that gas prices started going back up a month ago, and when gas prices go up, people get mad at the president.
Perhaps most worryingly for Dems, voters have already learned pretty much all there is to learn about the stuff that would put them off about Republican candidates—namely their support for abortion bans, their 2020 election trutherism, and in many cases, the fact that they are, personally, major-league bozos. That stuff is mostly “baked in” to polls at this point.
Nowhere is that problem more devastatingly acute than in Georgia, where “pro-life” candidate Herschel Walker has responded to a thoroughly well-sourced Daily Beast report that he paid for a partner’s abortion in 2009 with denials that have logical holes you could drive a peach truck through.
Walker’s line, as of now, is that there was nothing unusual about him sending a check to the woman who says she had the abortion—who’s provided an image of said check to the press—because she is the mother of another one of his children. This could make sense, in theory—but the child in question was born some three years after he sent the money. Relatedly, during their recent debate, when Warnock noted—factually—that the former NFL running back had made false claims about having been a law enforcement officer, Walker responded by showing off an honorary sheriff’s badge that he was once given for ceremonial purposes.
You might ask: Is there any good news for these poor Democrats? Yes: The NBA season starts Tuesday. Basketball is back! Da-da-da-da-da da da-da.
Well, not just that. It does look like the abortion controversy has indeed given Warnock a bump in the polls against Walker, though the race remains a tossup. There are also some polls—like Tuesday’s from Morning Consult—that still have Democrats leading the generic ballot. Gas prices also fell last week, and according to gas prices expert Patrick De Haan, they should be expected to do so in many parts of the country because certain key refineries have completed repairs and maintenance. De Haan:
We’ll see a continued sharp drop in gas prices on the West Coast, including areas like Las Vegas and Phoenix, which are supplied by refiners in California, as refinery outages have been addressed. The Great Lakes will see prices drift lower as BP’s Whiting refinery is soon to complete maintenance.
As the experts always say: Once the races have been run, it all comes down to turnout and the operational capacity of British Petroleum’s Whiting, Indiana refinery facility.